Trader Joes Red Palm Oil – Is it Good or Bad

Trader Joes Red Palm OilTrader Joe’s recently came out with an Organic Red Palm Oil (also known as African Palm Oil), which seems to have replaced their popular Organic Coconut oil, but it poses the question: is this a good thing?

Palm oil has been under fire (and rightly so) for some time now because of the association with rainforest destruction, and by association the killing, burning, and displacement of endangered Sumatran orangutans. Huge ‘palm forests’ now exist across Indonesia, Borneo, Malaysia, and other parts of Southeast Asia with more virgin rainforest being burned to make way for new plantations.

Driving this is the snack food and consumer product industries. Look on any candy bar, baked good, processed food, or personal care ingredient list, and you will probably see: palm kernel oil, palm oil, and sometimes simply vegetable oil. Palm oil has been the highest produced oil in the world since 2008, and is only been growing.

Palm Oil PlantationsWhile the palms themselves are a fast-growing relatively sustainable resource, the complete destruction of rainforests is where the harm out does any good. These palm forests are nothing more than single crop plantations, with no other plant species allowed to grow. Formed are huge monocultures devoid of any ecologically productive habitat. To put it in perspective, in one square mile of SE Asian rainforest, you can find over 1,000 different species. In a palm oil plantation, the number drops to less than 150.

Two things to note here about the Trader Joe’s palm oil are:
1 – It’s Organic
2 – It’s from Ecuador (Not SE Asia)

But that doesn’t completely get them off the hook. I mention these two facts because on the surface, it sounds good. Who can’t get on board with organic? And there are no orangutans in Ecuador, so no problem- right?

Not quite.

The good news here is that they are sourced from smaller organic plantations in Ecuador that have existed since the 1960s, but due to increasing demand, expansions have begun. Similarly, these palms are replacing the rain forests of Ecuador.

It’s a rocky road, and Trader Joes is looking for low priced alternatives to meet customer demand, simple as that. I love Trader Joes, but supporting (buying) any product that destroys such an amazing and precious resource when there are so many available alternatives, is wrong in my mind. Until palm oil can be produced in a sustainable way without cutting down what few rainforests we have left, I’ll pay an extra $2 and get some coconut oil instead.

Palm oil monoculture

If the issue of Palm oil concerns you, I highly recommend reviewing the Palm Oil Scorecard to see what brands are doing something about it, and which ones are exacerbating the problem.

Comments 9

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  1. Hey there, do you know about the deforestation from cattle grazing and for crops for animal agriculture?

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      Hello Audrey,

      Yes, there is a lot of concern around deforestation for agriculture, both grazing land for cattle and for monocrops like soybeans. I have not yet covered this subject on The Chic Ecologist, but there are a lot of great resources out there. You could start with WWF since they have some great articles on deforestation.

  2. Thanks for the info. I was debating on if TJ’s was better or not. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

    P.S. The nerd in me needs to add that “begs the question” refers to circular reasoning, not a fancier way of saying “asks the question”. X-D (Sorry!)

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    Hey Jess-

    Unfortunately we live in a world of grey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be informed. As palm oil goes, TJ’s is better than a lot of the alternatives, but isn’t the perfect solution. There are other oils (coconut) that mimic palm oil in many ways, yet don’t have the same impacts, so I would steer towards those if you can.

    Thanks for the correction too- I certainly appreciate my editor/nerd readers!

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      Thanks for the related article Lisa! What they say is true- palm oil is great in terms of productivity, it’s where the trees are planted (deforestation of Asia rather than the trees’ native Africa).

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